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J Fam Pract. 1993 May;36(5):521-5.

Health care needs of Appalachian trail hikers.

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Department of Family Practice and Community Health, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis.



With a growing interest and participation in hiking, predictions indicate that over 45 million Americans will participate in backpacking and day hiking in 1993. There has been very little assessment of the health care needs of this group. The purpose of this study was to assess the health care needs of Appalachian Trail backpackers.


Backpackers who completed hiking the Appalachian Trail in 1987 or 1988 received a 3-page survey questionnaire. The survey contained questions to elicit demographic information, general health characteristics, and health care experiences during the hike. Information about injuries, medications carried and used during the backpacking activities, health care needs, and trail time lost because of health problems was also requested.


Injuries and illnesses were reported by 82% of the respondents, incurring an average loss of 4.7 days of hiking. Musculoskeletal complaints, traumatic injuries, and gastrointestinal complaints were most often reported. The severity of these problems was such that medical attention was sought in 25% of these events.


Hikers need to anticipate that musculoskeletal, gastrointestinal, and skin problems may occur during hiking. It is prudent to carry medications such as analgesics in the form of aspirin or other nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory agents, topical antibiotics, and bandages. Methods to purify water need to be used regularly, and adequate preparation of food needs to be a priority.

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